Saturday, December 21, 2013

JADG - Retention of Countenance

It may be two drinks for loss of countenance, but keeping one's cool in the face of horrible events, slanderous attacks, or devastating news is a three-drink category in the Jane Austen Drinking Game. Retention of countenance is almost always a challenge directed at women, while men could vent their emotions much more freely, and appear more manly for it. 

The late18th century poet Mary Robinson lamented that women were so repressed in the expression of their emotions. "The heart must love," she wrote in her Memoirs, "or it will be dead to every noble, every sublime propensity." But in order to survive in the world arranged by men, she continued, a woman must learn to  be "a calmly thinking being, who can weigh the affections of the heart against the proprieties of Reason." Robinson herself fought a hopeless battle against her public reputation, as a former actress and one-time mistress of the young Prince George. A stunning beauty, she also had a brilliant mind, gaining the admiration and sincere friendship of some of the great thinkers of the day. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a close friend, called her "a woman of undoubted genius". She wrote plays and novels (not very good ones), but became most well-known for her fine poetry. Her writing became the outlet for her ideas and her deep feelings, and through them she hoped to "remake" herself, as is the modern trend, and literally overwrite (double pun there) her former reputation. Unfortunately, for the next 150 years, that reputation overshadowed all her work, and it was not until the latter half of the 20th century that Mary Robinson, poet, was valued without mention of "Perdita", the role in which the Prince of Wales became besotted with her.

There's something about Mother Ackermann's past that makes her an enigmatic figure. Always calm and wise, she occasionally pops out with a comment that makes one wonder what's going on in her mind. The portraits of the Ackermanns in their youth are actually Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville, and Princess Augusta Sophia Hanover, daughter of George III. They had nothing to do with each other in real life.

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